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Libyans protest against authorities in flood-hit Derna

People gather for a demonstration outside the surviving Al-Sahaba mosque in Libya's eastern city of Derna on September 18, 2023, as they protest against government neglect   -  
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HUSSAM AHMED/AFP or licensors


Hundreds of protesters rallied in Libya's disaster-hit Derna on Monday, accusing the authorities of neglect after a huge flash flood devastated the coastal city and swept thousands to their deaths.

Demonstrators gathered outside the city's grand mosque and chanted slogans against the parliament in east Libya and its leader Aguilah Saleh.

"The people want parliament to fall", "Aguila is the enemy of God", "The blood of martyrs is not shed in vain" and "Thieves and betrayers must hang", they shouted.

A statement read on behalf of the protesters urged "a speedy investigation and legal action against those responsible for the disaster".

They also demanded a United Nations office in Derna and the start of "the city's reconstruction, plus compensation for affected residents" and a probe into the current city council and previous budgets.

"Those who survived from the city, in what's left of the city, against the ones who brought death and destruction to the city," posted analyst Anas el-Gomati on X, formerly Twitter, under pictures of the destruction.

Politicians and analysts say the chaos in Libya since the 2011 fall and killing of Moamer Kadhafi has relegated the maintenance of vital infrastructure to the background.

On September 10, two dams in which cracks were reported as far back as 1998 burst after Storm Daniel hit eastern Libya, unleashing a devastating and deadly torrent that swept through Derna, a city of 100,000 people.

The flash flood killed nearly 3,300 people and left thousands more missing.

Tens of thousands of traumatised residents are homeless and badly need clean water, food and basic supplies amid a growing risk of cholera, diarrhoea, dehydration and malnutrition, UN agencies have warned.

- Disease outbreaks -

On Monday the UN warned that disease outbreaks could bring "a second devastating crisis".

Local officials, aid agencies and the World Health Organization "are concerned about the risk of disease outbreak, particularly from contaminated water and the lack of sanitation", the UN said.

Libya's disease control centre banned citizens in the disaster zone from drinking water from local mains, warning that it is "polluted".

Rescue teams from European and Arab countries kept up the grim search for bodies in the mud-caked wasteland of smashed buildings, crushed cars and uprooted trees.

The waters submerged a densely populated six-square-kilometre (2.3-square-mile) area in Derna, damaging 1,500 buildings of which 891 were totally razed, according to a preliminary report released by the Tripoli government based on satellite images.

"We grew up here, we were raised here... But we've come to hate this place, we've come to hate what it has become," said one bereaved Derna resident, Abdul Wahab al-Masouri.

Bulldozers cleared roads of mud, including at a mosque where a foul smell hung in the air and a woman prayed for children and grandchildren killed in the disaster.

Amid the chaos, the true death toll remained unknown, with untold numbers swept into the sea.

The health minister of the divided country's eastern administration, Othman Abdeljalil, has said 3,283 people were now confirmed dead in Derna.

Libyan officials and humanitarian groups have warned, however, that the final toll could be much higher.

- Field hospitals -

Emergency response teams and aid have been deployed from countries including Egypt, France, Greece, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Five members of a Greek rescue team were killed when their vehicle collided with a Libyan family's car on the Benghazi-to-Derna road on Sunday, officials said. Three members of the family also died.

Egypt has sent a helicopter carrier to the eastern Tobruk military base to serve as a field hospital with more than 100 beds, Egyptian media reported.

France has set up a field hospital in Derna.

On Monday, the UN, which has launched an emergency appeal for more than $71 million, said nine of its agencies were delivering aid and support to survivors.

The European Union said it was releasing 5.2 million euros (around $5.5 million) in humanitarian funding for Libya, bringing total EU aid so far to more than 5.7 million euros.

In the face of the tragedy, rival Libyan administrations appear to have set aside their differences for now after calls to collaborate in the aid effort.

Libya has been split between two rival governments -- a UN-backed administration in the capital Tripoli and another in the disaster-hit east -- since the NATO-backed uprising 12 years ago.

On Monday the Tripoli-based government said it began work on a temporary bridge over the river that cuts through Derna.

UN experts have blamed the high death toll on climatic factors as the Mediterranean region has sweltered under an unusually hot summer, and on the legacy of Libya's war.

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